My inner voice is an asshole. For as long as I can remember, even as far back as elementary school, it taught me important things like, You’re not good at art. You suck a dodge ball. Your bangs are dumb looking. You can’t spell. But like a hostage with a diabolical captor, I didn’t know anything else and quickly developed Stockholm syndrome. I not only liked my inner voice, I would defend it as wise and insightful…yo, my bangs were pretty jacked up. But, what it really was, and still is, is Hannibal Lecter holding me hostage, and no matter how much lotion this chick puts on herself, he’s still going to skin her alive if she doesn’t escape.
So, where does this hyper-critical inner voice come from? I’m guessing the non-stop bombardment of messages of impossible perfection we get every day in advertising, television, movies, and magazines. When I was growing up, I dreamt of being fair-skinned, blue-eyed, and blond. Why? Well, when I was working in the magazine industry in my thirties, I learned brunettes on the cover sold fewer issues. So, yeah, message received! Messages of perfection are constant. Female perfection. Male perfection. Parenting perfection. Career perfection. Academic perfection. Athletic perfection. Healthy food perfection. Vacation f-ing perfection. And my personal favorite, Imperfection perfection…ya know, like how adorably flawed I am in all my blogs.
But as we get older, we realize no one gives a shit about our dodge ball skills and bangs are optional (thank the lord). We intellectually understand that perfection doesn’t exist and begin to see ourselves as strong, beautiful, smart, and capable…more than good enough. So, you would think we would no longer be held captive. Well, think again. We stay by choice. And not because we suck, like the voice likes to tell us, but because our inner voice is not only an asshole; it’s tenacious and cunning. Forget the color of your hair, it’s onto bigger and more nuanced things, namely exploiting your deepest self-doubts, convincing you you’re a fraud, and oh, it thinks you’re fat. Inner voices are obsessed with weight. Kinda makes you long for a good ol’ fashioned dodge ball shaming.
Well, I’ve been working on escaping my inner voice for years and have figured out that I’m not the fraud; my inner voice is the fraud, and here’s why…
No one hears it but you. This is a key concept to grasp if you want to shut up this loud-mouthed jerk living in your head. I used to think that my inner voice was about some form of humility. Bahahahaha. It’s not. I thought if I didn’t beat myself up first someone else would…and isn’t it better to be in control of knowing my faults and shortcomings and hating myself for them before someone else could? The answer to that is, no. No, it’s not better at all. It’s also cray-cray because no one hears your inner voice but you. Your self-criticism doesn’t make you come across as humble, it just makes you feel perpetually shitty about yourself for no other reason than it’s a habit.
It’s mean. God, my inner voice is like the meanest, most unforgiving d-bag on the planet. If I met my inner voice at a party I’d be like, Who invited this jerk? I would most definitely NEVER entertain the words of my inner voice if they were embodied in another human being. And yet…I’ve somehow invited this psychotic person to live in my brain? Yeah, it’s messed up.
It’s negative. Every now and again my inner voice says something nice, but then quickly follows it up with something negative, so I don’t get too full of myself. As if! Inner voices are never satisfied for long, so you can only sustain fleeting moments of self-love before that evil, shrewd, manipulative yapper reminds you how much you are failing in looks, career, marriage, parenting, existing…whatever.
It’s wrong. Yeah, that’s right. It’s wrong. This one is tough to accept because it’s confusing. Sometimes you do suck. Sometimes you are stupid.I did suck at dodge ball. And, again, my childhood bangs were really awful, like objectively. But my inner voice made those things out to be serious defects of my existence instead of one-shoulder shrugs about myself that don’t matter. It’s like how we say, “I’m fat” when that’s simply not true. I’m this whole interesting and complex person who has some fat. I promise you that whatever you are habitually beating yourself up about, it’s not true.
Look, being held captive and brainwashed for so long requires some serious deprogramming. Sadly there’s no quick fix to shut this fucker up, but meditation has helped me. Not to be that “you should meditate” person, but…you should meditate. It will help you see yourself in a more loving, positive light, and it’s all the relief you might imagine it to be, and more. When I started meditating I was sure there was no way I could quiet this bad boy mind of mine. Have you met me? I never stop pondering the meaning of life from existential death issues to how soul-sucking it is to load and unload the dishwasher. But, it was surprisingly easy and gave me the strength to confront my asshole inner voice Patrick Swayze, “nobody puts baby in a corner,” style.
But even meditation, as mind changing as it is, can’t stop your inner voice from having your ear. It will always have your ear…it’s in your ear, literally. So, my other strategy has been trying to make friends with it. I know it means well. It was a form of protection for me – to have such a low opinion of myself I could always exceed. But what it did, and what it’s been doing, is keeping me from my full potential and that’s no way to live. Years ago I read this quote by Marianne Williamson in a speech by Nelson Mandela and thought, oh my god, this.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
I truncated it a bit, but I love the line, “Your playing small does not serve the world.” Holy shit, yes. Yes!
I’d like to end this here and tell you that some meditation and one quote have completely freed me from my inner voice captor, but the truth is, it got visitation rights. It’s a battle, man. But I no longer believe what it says. I can’t possibly always suck. I’m actually not stupid. And, I’m not even fat, for the love of snot. What I am is this thing called, human. Flawed, learning, struggling, thriving. I have preferences. I have strengths and weaknesses. I have moments of wise clarity and many, many moments of, what the fuck am I doing? I’m just me, and that has to be enough.
So when my inner Hannibal Lecter shows up telling me to put lotion on myself, I confidently tell it to shut up until it cowers and adds, No, I just mean your skin is dry and I want you to take care of you because I love you. Good, weirdo cannibal inner voice captor, good boy.
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